NanoEthics

, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 133–148

Visions of Brazilian Scientists on Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies

Authors

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s11569-008-0042-y

Cite this article as:
Invernizzi, N. Nanoethics (2008) 2: 133. doi:10.1007/s11569-008-0042-y

Abstract

This article examines the visions on nanosciences and nanotechnologies (N&N) disseminated by a group of Brazilian scientists to legitimize this emergent field of research. For this purpose we analyzed reports on N&N published by the Journal of Science, edited daily by the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science, from 2002 to 2007, covering the period in which the main events in domestic N&N research policy took place. Our analysis shows that researchers on N&N are spreading visions of progress, efficiency and competitiveness related to the advances in this field, giving little attention to issues such as potential risks, and economic, social and ethical implications of these technologies.

Keywords

NanosciencesNanotechnologiesS&T vision assessmentScientific communityVisions of scientific progress

Introduction

Beginning in 2000, programs and funds for research into nanosciences and nanotechnologies (N&N)—the study and manipulation of matter at the atomic or molecular level—gained importance in science and technology (S&T) policies worldwide.1 Brazil quickly became part of this trend. From late 2000 to 2004 the main events took place that would galvanize an active policy for the sector and culminated in the N&N Development Program (PDN&N) as part of the Multi-year Plan for 2004–2007 of the Ministry of Science & Technology. Soon after, in 2005, a more comprehensive initiative, the National Program of Nanotechnology, was launched.

Introduced as revolutionary, N&N entered the arena of S&T policy and were presented to the media and the general public worldwide in a euphoria of visions of a future nanotechnological society. These visions are revolutionary not only in a technological sense but also in social and cultural terms. Their content is not just cognitive, but also involves interests, values, ideologies and concepts concerning the relationship between science, technology and society ([10]: 56). Let us consider for instance a report prepared for President Clinton entitled Nanotechnologies: Shaping the World Atom by Atom [26]. This title became a slogan for nanotechnology, putting forward a notion of a material world under an unprecedented degree of human control and precision [16]. Equally suggestive was the title of another report on converging technologies: Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance [28]. This short sentence summarizes the strong vision of human enhancement, which predicts a convergence of man and machine to enlarge human physical and cognitive capacity.2

These visions, with their promises, seek to demarcate and legitimize an emerging field of research, guarantee funding and, naturally, influence the course of the technological development itself. However, these visions of techno-scientific progress also lead to criticism and public debate. In the case of N&N, the debate began early on in some developed countries. In the wake of the previous conflicts on biotechnology, some countries included in their N&N policies mechanisms for public information and participation.3 In this environment we have seen both visions designed to gain public acceptance and political support for research programs and those attempting to cause resistance to specific technologies or programs.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to determine the precise impact of a vision or the dynamic of contradictions between diverging visions on the concrete configuration of research programs and the resulting technological developments. Vision assessment, a tool integrated with technology assessment allows us to approach this matter. According to Fiedeler et al. [7], the purpose of S&T vision assessment is to analyze the sense, role, bases, values and interests subjacent to the visions in order to understand their influence on the dynamic of the debate in a specific technological field.

In this article, we propose to analyze the visions on N&N disseminated through the Jornal da Ciência e-mail (JC, Journal of Science), published by the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC).4 We are particularly interested in inquiring the role of Brazilian researchers in formulating the visions of N&N that helped to this new field of research being rapidly legitimized by their peers and the government, resulting in the recognition of N&N as a strategic area in Brazilian science, technology and innovation policies. The JC was chosen because it is a privileged resource for the diffusion of information and opinions within the scientific community. The 14,500 subscribers who receive the JC are mostly researchers, professors and graduate students.

The JC is not a peer-reviewed scientific journal, but rather a means of publishing news, articles and opinion papers on S&T. It is sent daily by e-mail to its subscribers and helps them to keep up with the main events and debates on policy and development of science and technology in the country.5 The journal includes relevant reports from the national press, information gathered from or sent by S&T agencies, and opinion articles submitted by scientists. The views of researchers on N&N mostly appear in these writings when they are quoted as qualified sources in articles written by reporters. On other occasions, the researchers themselves make their opinions known directly in articles submitted under their own names. The articles also include opinions from policy makers who operate within the government S&T agencies.

Although, in the articles we examined, we came across the opinions of many researchers who operate in the field of N&N—74 developing the field itself, and eight analyzing its implications for society, in addition to 12 policy makers—, it is necessary to take into account that these opinions are not representative of the whole community of scientists involved in N&N research since the editors of the JC are the ones who select the articles to be published. The scope of selection, however, is relevant to our investigation as we are dealing with the outlet of an organization of scientists who have traditionally been very active in debates on scientific and technological development in the country.

Reports on N&N were analyzed from 2002 (the first year in which the JC files were first made available on the website of the SBPC) to 2007. Over the first 3 years, N&N issues became increasingly frequent in the JC. In 2002 24 reports were published, rising to 40 in 2003, and to 61 in 2004, which is peak of the 6 years under study. This peak is a decisive moment for the formulation of a S&T policy for the sector. In 2005, 50 articles were published; this number dropped to 43 in 2006 and 44 in 2007 (see the bottom line of Table 1).
Table 1

Reports on N&N published in JC, by main subjects

Main subjects

Number of reports

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Total

General information on nanotechnologies and its applications

7

5

5

7

2

5

31

S&T policies and funding for the sector in Brazil

3

12

8

5

1

0

29

Infrastructure, researchers and organization of research in Brazil

4

0

6

2

8

4

24

Foreign research reports

4

4

2

4

3

1

18

Risks and economic, social, legal and ethical implications

0

2

6

3

2

4

17

Brazilian research reports

2

1

3

3

3

1

13

Companies and markets

0

0

1

4

3

1

9

Nanotechnologies and the public

0

0

0

3

3

2

8

Regulation

0

0

0

1

1

0

2

Sub-total reports

20

24

31

32

26

18

151

Information about events, courses, fairs, announcements, etc

4

16

30

18

17

26

111

Total reports

24

40

61

50

43

44

262

Source: prepared by the author based on information from the Jornal da Ciência

The subjects broached, in order of frequency, can be seen in Table 1. We can group the subjects deal with over this period into three categories. The first includes general information about nanosciences, nanotechnologies and their potential applications and those applications already available, including the topics of “general information on nano and its applications”, “reports on domestic and foreign research”, and “companies and markets”. Taken as a whole, these subjects are the most frequently dealt with during this time. The second category includes articles with information and discussions about N&N policy and the conditions of research in the country, including the topics of “S&T policies and funding for the sector in Brazil” and “infrastructure, researchers and organization of research in Brazil”. The former was heavily focused on in 2003 and 2004, a time when the general outlines of policy for N&N were being decided; the latter was given more attention towards the end of the period under study, coinciding with investments in new laboratories and the creation of new research networks and the signing of international agreements for cooperation for research. Finally, the third category deals with the relationship between nanotechnology and society, including the topics of “Risks and economic, social, legal and ethical implications”, “Regulation” and “Nanotechnologies and the public”. Far less numerous than the subjects of the first two categories, the subjects included in this final category became more frequent towards the end of the period under study. We also saw an increase in information about events, announcements of research funds, fairs and conferences on N&N at this time, signaling the gradual introduction of the field into everyday research in the country.

In the following sections we will explore the content of the articles. Those dealing with events, courses, fairs and announcements have been excluded from the qualitative analysis as they contain only specific information about these events. Therefore, our analysis is based on 151 articles (see Sub-Total reports line in Table 1). Of this total, the sources for 90 articles are information from Brazilian researchers and the sources for 20 are the opinions of policy makers of S&T organizations of the Brazilian government (many of whom are also researchers of N&N), while 8 are based on communiqués issued by these organizations. Some of the articles use more than one of these sources. Thirty-one articles are based exclusively on foreign scientists. Sources from the Brazilian business community are used in four articles; five others use sources from other sectors of society such as NGOs, social activists and politicians. Thus, views on N&N published in the JC are predominantly those of Brazilian researchers (Table 2).
Table 2

Reports on N&N published in JC, by source of information

Sources of information

Number of reports

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Total

Brazilian researchers

9

15

24

17

15

10

90

Policy makers of Brazilian Government S&T organizations

3

5

4

5

3

0

20

Communication of Brazilian S&T organizations and institutions

0

3

1

1

1

2

8

Foreign researchers, exclusively

7

3

6

6

5

4

31

Others (NGOs, activists, politicians)

0

1

0

2

1

1

5

Brazilian companies or companies located in Brazil

0

0

2

1

0

1

4

Source: prepared by the author based on information from the Jornal da Ciência. Note: More than one option is possible

We have organized the presentation of N&N visions into five sections. First, we draw a brief outline of the policy of science, technology and innovation for N&N in order to show the context in which these visions are developed. Second, we analyze visions on the future nanotechnological society, identifying the promises of nanosciences and nanotechnologies that are being spread. Third, we examine how far these visions allude to social, economic and ethical implications and the potential risks of these new technologies. Fourth, we analyze how these visions are used to legitimize a new field of research. Finally, we identify the main actors involved in spreading these visions. We round off the article with a few brief considerations and reflections.

Development of the N&N Policy in Brazil

The construction of the national policy for N&N in Brazil began under the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1999–2002) with a workshop held in Brasilia, in November 2000, called “Tendencies of Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies”. This workshop was organized by the Secretariat of Policies and Programs of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MST) and the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq). In this reunion, 32 researchers from different fields such as physics, chemistry, biology, and engineering reached an agreement about the necessity of creating a national program of N&N. An Articulation Group composed by ten researchers was created, with the purpose of identify the expertise of Brazil in N&N and elaborate an agenda [2].

In April 2001, the Articulation Group presented a document identifying 192 researchers working in six areas connected to N&N in the country: (a) Nanoinstruments, nanosensors and nanoelectronics, (b) Nanostructured materials, (c) Nanobiotechnology and nanochemistry, (d) Nanoscale processes with impacts and applications on the environment and agriculture and (e) Nanometrology [14].

In the same year, the CNPq acted rapidly in response to these reunions and it called for inter- and multidisciplinary research projects to run the Cooperative Networks of Basic and Applied Research on Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies with the purpose of creating and consolidating the national expertise in this field [14]. Three million reais were allocated for the project (one-million dollars according to the exchange rate at the time). The outcome was the creation of four research networks: Nanostructured Materials, Molecular Nanotechnology and Interphases, Nanobiotechnology and the Network of Semiconductor, Nanoinstruments and Nanostructured Materials. Each network was composed of scientists, universities and research centers from different parts of the country.6

In addition, the MST and the CNPq have promoted, since 2001, four institutes for research in new materials and nanosciences, as part of the Millennium Initiative financed by the World Bank, which goal is to push excellence level scientific research in strategic areas for the development of the country [18].

In the same year, the efforts of the Coordination for the Improvement of the High Level Personnel (CAPES) of the Ministry of Education were integrated, granting six scholarships in Nanotechnology in partnerships with the Brazilian Association of Synchrotron Light [1].

Still during Cardoso’s government the creation of a Nanotechnology Reference Center, linked to the MST was proposed. This center would have the dual mission of stimulating academic research and encouraging the use of new technologies by the private sector. These ideas were embedded in the first National Program of Nanotechnology coordinated by the Physicist Cylon Gonçalves da Silva, Emeritus-Professor of the Universidade Estadual de Campinas and former director of the National Synchrotron Light Laboratory [31]. Shortly after the change of government, the project was abandoned and the opening of the laboratory was cancelled because it was argued that the project consumed too many resources that could be used by other laboratories.

When Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva became president in 2003, the MST created a new program, under the supervision of Dr. Fernando Galembeck, another professor of the Universidade Estadual de Campinas. In 2003, a Working Group, coordinated by Gallembeck, was created by the MST to develop a National Program of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. The final proposal was submitted to public consultation and it was later incorporated to the Multi-year Plan 2004–2007 of the MST. The estimated budget for the 4 year project was 78-million reais (approximately USD 28-million). The objective of the program was to develop new products and processes from nanotechnology in order to increase the competitiveness of national industry. It recommended actions to implement and support laboratories and networks, as well as the implementation of institutional projects focusing on R&D [17].

In the Industrial Technological and Trade Policy, presented by the government in 2004, nanotechnology is depicted an area “bearer of the future”, reinforcing the strategic importance that the government granted to this field [31]. The year 2004 was also decisive for the organization of collaborations with the Argentinean Republic, trough the creation of the Bi-national Center for Nanotechnology Brasil-Argentina.

Still in 2004, the MST proposed again the construction of a National Laboratory of Micro and Nanotechnology worth 30-million reais in São Paulo, generating a heated debate.7 Several scientists of the area reacted to this project, arguing that it was a centralizing measure in distributing the scarce resources. Moreover, they stated that it was an action contrary to the recommendations from the PPA 2004–2007. It also was viewed as a serious questioning of the cooperative networks policy, that was previously evaluated as successful [12].

As the research networks model prevailed, a year later the CNPq launched a new call to create research networks (Brazil Nano Program). Ten research networks were supported with R$27.2 million reais (US $12 million) for 4 years from the PPA 2004–2007 and the Sectorial Funds.8 This consolidated the initiative for network research that had been supported by the CNPq and, in addition to the development of new research, included goals for development and the improvement of infrastructure [19]. In the context of an approximation of research policy to industrial policy, the research profile of these new ten networks reflects an orientation towards industrial application.

President Lula da Silva and the Minister of Science and Technology, Sergio Rezende, launched the National Nanotechnology Program in August 2005, with a budget of 71-million reales (USD $31-million dollars) for the 2005–2006 period. This program consolidated several of the previous initiatives, particularly the one from the PPA 2004–2007 and the orientation regarding nanotechnologies of the Industrial, Technological and Trade Policy. The additional funds doubled the estimate by the PPA 2004–2007 [13].

The research infrastructure was improved during 2006 with the financial support of the MST to improve a number of nanotechnology laboratories and with the creation of the National Nanotechnology Laboratory for Agribusiness.

Finally, in 2007, the MST published the Plan of Action 2007–2010 entitled Science, Technology and Innovation for National Development, which includes a Plan of Action for Science, Technology and Innovation for Nanotechnology among the fields that are considered strategic. The goal of this program is to develop new products and processes and the transfer of technology from academia to companies, emphasizing technological innovation in order to improve competitiveness of Brazilian industry. This document sets out for the first time in public policy the need to “establish policies on the ethical questions of nanotechnology and the social impact of the use of nanotechnology-based products” ([20]:144).

The Promises of Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies

What will the nanotech society be like? The articles analyzed offer us some visions of the future in which the ideas of revolution, benefits and growing efficiency stand out.

Fifty-one articles on N&N specifically deal with the status of N&N in relation to former scientific development. Most of them (36) introduce N&N as being revolutionary, using expressions such as “technological revolution”, “change of paradigm”, “rupture” and “industrial revolution”. The other 15 articles make use of more moderate terms, but they also highlight the newness of N&N, such as “state-of-the-art science and technology”, “new technologies”, “new field of research.”

Eighty-five articles address the benefits of nanotechnologies (Table 3). The main vision related to this revolution or cutting-edge technology is the promise of economic development. The benefits of nanomedicine for improving health and quality of life are also highlighted in the articles, as well as the potentials of nanotechnology for preserving the environment and reversing environmental degradation. A few articles refer broadly to “benefits for humanity” and even fewer state that nanotechnologies will help to reduce poverty.
Table 3

Reports on N&N published in JC, by potential benefits resulting from N&N research

Potential benefits resulting from N&N research

Number of reports

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Total

Articles dealing with the subject

9

15

18

17

15

13

87

 Economic development

9

13

10

12

11

7

62

 Health and quality of life

1

3

11

11

6

6

38

 Preservation of the environment

2

2

5

6

3

5

23

 Benefits for humanity

0

0

2

1

1

1

5

 Poverty alleviation and inequality reduction

0

0

0

2

0

1

3

Articles that do not broach the subject

11

9

13

15

11

5

64

Total of articles

20

24

31

32

26

18

151

Source: prepared by the author based on information from the Jornal da Ciência. Note: More than one option is possible

An optimistic vision of the future arises in the articles, which stress improvements in economic, social and environmental conditions as a result of the development of N&N. We find in the JC neither futuristic utopias of human enhancement nor dystopias such as “gray goo” contaminating the planet. There is not even mention of the controversial radical perspective of molecular manufacturing proposed by Eric Drexler [5].9 Emphasis is placed on less futuristic subjects such as the efficiency of new products: better focused therapies, permanent monitoring of the body, extremely powerful computers, intelligent multi-functional clothing and more resistant and longer lasting materials. Table 4 shows the main areas for the application of nanotechnologies referred to in the articles: health, computers, new materials, agriculture and agribusiness are the most cited. In Table 5 we provide some examples of the visions of efficiency in these areas.
Table 4

Reports on N&N published in JC, by most frequently mentioned fields for the application of nanotechnologies

Most frequently mentioned fields for the application of nanotechnologiesa

Number of reports

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Total

Articles dealing with the subject

19

14

16

22

20

13

104

 Medicine, Pharmaceuticals

10

7

10

12

11

9

59

 Computers

10

6

7

9

3

7

42

 New materials

4

4

5

7

5

4

29

 Agriculture and agro-industry

3

7

0

2

6

3

21

 Known consumer products with new features

3

6

2

1

2

2

16

 Devices for products and productive processes (sensors, catalysts, semi-conductors, etc)

5

3

2

2

1

1

14

 Production and storage of energy

0

1

3

3

4

3

14

 Cosmetics

1

2

4

1

3

2

13

 Food

0

0

1

3

6

3

13

 Chemical and petrochemical industry

3

1

1

3

0

4

12

 Textile and garment

0

1

1

3

3

3

11

 Car Industry

2

1

1

3

4

0

11

 Environmental remediation

0

0

1

5

1

2

9

 Telecommunication

0

2

3

0

0

0

5

 Military

0

0

2

2

0

1

5

Articles that do not specify a field of application

1

10

15

10

6

5

47

Total of articles

20

24

31

32

26

18

151

Source: prepared by the author based on information in the Jornal da Ciência. Note: More than one option is possible

aFields mentioned less than five times were excluded

Table 5

What does nanotechnology have in store for us? Examples

Health

Computers

New materials and products with new features

Agriculture and food

“A robot of microscopic proportions, seven times smaller than a red blood cell [can be used] to combat diabetes… the robot could be guided into the bone marrow to collect stem cells and take them to the pancreas, the organ responsible for producing insulin in the human body. [They could also] act within the blood vessels that surround the heart and carry out surgical procedures such as unblocking the arteries”. (Nanorobotic medicine, JC e-mail 2609, 20 September, 2004, )

“…advances in the field of nanotechnology, such as electroluminescent polymers, mean that the bases for the design and commercialization of molecular computers are set… we are talking about the development of a computer that is a thousand times more powerful than those of today, not only in capacity to store data but also in speed and velocity of response”. (Nanochemistry launches the bases for molecular computers, JC e-mail 1986, 06 March, 2002, )

“Plastic food packaging that changes color when food has gone off. Cars whose paintwork absorbs solar energy to recharge the battery. Windows that turn sunlight into energy. These innovations and many others which promise to conquer the market in a short time are the fruits of nanotechnology. Some of them will be exhibited at Nanotec Expo 2005, the first large-scale nanotechnology event in Latin America”. (Brazil has 120 nanotechnology patents. JC e-mail 2802, 01 July, 2005, )

“Very thin film, whose thickness may be as little as two or three molecular layers are used to protect fruit or slices of fruit. The fruit could now last for as long as one or two weeks because the film slows down the ripening process and protects the fruit from decomposing micro-organisms”. (Embrapa earmarks four million reais for nanotechnology, JC e-mail 2998, 18 April, 2006, )

“Coupled with made-to-measure antibodies that adhere to cancer cells, tiny magnets the size of five millionths of a millimeter reach their goal. Using a magnetic field, they vibrate and heat up within the patient until they destroy the tumor. All the while, the neighboring tissues remain intact”. (Researchers at the University of Brasilia will test nanomagnets against tumors, JC e-mail 2117, 11 September, 2002, )

“Although there are still a few years to go before a computer the size of a few molecules becomes a reality, it is very easy to envision its potential… We can imagine the nanocomputer moving a sensor that would remain inside the body, monitoring the level of a medicine or insulin… Another possibility would be its use in ‘intelligent’ lights, capable of automatically sensing the level of light and adjusting the lighting accordingly”. (Nanocomputers and the genome in the forefront of the scientific achievements in 2001, JC e-mail 1945, 03 January, 2002, )

“The American company Nano-Tex has launched products that make pants and dresses resistant to drips of coffee, wine and other stains… this is all made possible by nanoparticle, part of a field of science and technology that is taking off with a bang worldwide: nanotechnology.… You won’t have to wash your clothes so much and you’ll need fewer items of clothing”. (Nanotechnology will even change the way you dress. JC e-mail 2525, 17 May, 2004, )

“… the first generation of products from the food sector based on nanotechnology, including synthetic colorants, cooking oil preservatives and coated packaging with anti-microbe agents have already made their way onto the market”. (Innovation: Nanotechnology arrives in food and alerts regulating bodies, JC e-mail 3129, 25 October, 2006, )

“The brain is good at many things but it does not have the gift of self-healing. Fortunately, even this may be solved by science. A group in the USA has conceived a solution based on civil engineering to tackle the problem, with ‘mini-scaffolding’ capable of providing a structural support so that brain tissue can be reconstructed. It is expected that in the future this strategy can be used in treatments for strokes and other neurological problems, such as spinal marrow”. (Nanomatrix helps to regenerate neurons, JC e-mail 2450, 23 January, 2004, )

“We can imagine the creation of components, memory and tiny hard disks that could store more and more information”. (Nanotechnology promises tiny, powerful computer chips. JC e-mail 2024, 02 May, 2002, )

“Scientists have produced the most resistant fibers known to man by using carbon nanotubes. In the future… it will be possible to weave these fibers and transform them into tissues capable of storing energy, picking up radio signals or working as sensors. Use your imagination and dream of a bullet proof shirt that plays MP3 files and receives your cell phone calls. An even more realistic application would be light armor that would also supply electrical energy for the radio and other equipment that a soldier requires”. (The revolution of nanotube fibers, JC e-mail 2329, 28 July, 2003, =11543)

“… new materials such as polymers… are structured on the nanometric scale to work as sensors and protective film. These polymers are among the main components of the “electronic tongue” prototype… The gadget facilitates the life of coffee tasters… separating types of drink beforehand and detecting impurities”. (Embrapa earmarks four million reais for nanotechnology, JC e-mail 2998, 18 April, 2006. )

“In Brazil, a new vaccine against tuberculosis that makes use of nanotechnological resources promises to treat patients who cannot take current medicine and reduce the recovery process by half. Japanese researchers are using nanospheres … to produce a future vaccine against AIDS”. (Nanotechnology against tuberculosis and AIDS, JC e-mail 2845, 31 August, 2005, =31043)

“One of the nearest projections to be implemented in computers or electronic gadgets in the next twenty years is the use of metallic nanofibers to connect components of a chip or an integrated circuit board. [The purpose is] to facilitate the miniaturization of circuits even more and make processing capacity faster… [Now] we have ceramic nanotapes… [which] have the advantage of not merging like metallic nanofibers… and can stand ten times more density than a gold nanofiber…” (Powerful connections: Ceramic nanotapes are candidates to connect circuits and transistors, JC e-mail 2811, 14 July, 2005, =29801)

“What the housewife needs to know is that 99.9% of all bacteria is eliminated during the wash cycle thanks to nanotechnology [silver nanoparticles incorporated into the tubs of washing machines]” (The Suggar Company launches washing machines with nanotechnologies, JC e-mail 3278, 05 June, 2007, =47604)

“… now being developed are…. fertilizers that can release their main component only when coming into contact with the weed it is directed at… we have also researched herbicides that will release poison only when coming across the fungus it is made to combat”. (Embrapa will have a nanotechnology laboratory, JC e-mail 3157, 06 December, 2006, =42886)

Source: prepared by the author from information in the Jornal da Ciência

These optimistic visions are set in the immediate future, a period that expects a huge surge in the nanoproducts market—Lux Research [15] estimates that the market for products containing nanotechnologies in 2015 will be worth 2.9 trillion US dollars (US $2.9 × 1012). In two thirds of the 73 articles that broach the time frame for the development of nanotechnology, the argument is made that this development has already begun or will explode during the next 10 years.

Economic, Social and Ethical Implications and Potential Risks

A third of the articles (54) published in the JC from 2002–2007 touch on an aspect of the economic, social and ethical implications and the potential risks of nanotechnologies. This ratio remains constant right up to 2007, when two thirds of the articles published deal with this subject (Table 6).
Table 6

Reports on N&N published in JC in order of implications of the development of nanotechnology

 

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Total

Articles dealing with the subject

7

8

11

8

8

12

54

 Risks to health and the environment

0

2

8

5

5

8

28

 Changes in conditions for production and competitiveness

3

5

3

4

3

5

23

 Changes in way of life

0

1

3

1

4

5

14

 Ethical dilemmas

0

1

1

2

1

3

8

 Social implications (sem especificar quais)

0

0

0

1

3

3

7

 Greater social inequality

0

1

2

3

0

0

6

 Fall in traditional exports

0

1

0

1

0

1

3

 Risks to workers in laboratories and industry

0

0

1

0

0

2

3

Articles that do not broach the subject

13

16

20

24

18

6

97

Total of articles

20

24

31

32

26

18

151

Source: prepared by the author based on information in the Jornal da Ciência. Note: More than one option is possible

Changes in the conditions of production and productivity as a result of the diffusion of nanotechnologies is one of the subjects that appears most frequently during this whole period, mentioned in 23 articles. However, the importance given to the economic implications is quite limited when compared to the perspectives of economic development as the main benefit of nanotechnologies put forward in 62 articles. The articles do not allude to the potential adverse results of these economic changes, for instance company closures and job losses. Nor do they mention any actions to avoid or face these problems. Thus, the point of view prevails that economic development, spurred on by nanotechnology will not cause any major upsets.

The potential risks to health and the environment became the most frequent subject from 2004 onwards, and became highly focused in 2007 when it was dealt with in eight of the 18 articles published about N&N. Two events introduced the theme of risks that year: the foundation of the Nanotechnology, Society and Environment Network in Brazil, commented in two articles, and the publication of the report of the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering [29], mentioned in another two articles. In the wake of these events other articles referred to risks of nanoparticles during the next 3 years, placing this issue as the most commented implication of nanotechnology in the JC. Throughout the period that was analyzed, only five researchers from the fields of natural sciences, physics and engineer referred to the potential risks of nanotechnologies. The subject is dealt with more frequently by social scientists, in 13 articles, most of them members of the Nanotechnology, Society and Environment Network. The remainder of the articles that broach the subject of risks are based on foreign sources.

Fourteen articles make general references to changes in the way of life there would be as a consequence of the development of nanotechnology. Other matters that are often mentioned in the literature on the implications of nanotechnologies (for example, [11, 21, 22, 24, 29, 30, 3335]), such as ethical dilemmas, possible widening of the poverty gap, fall in traditional exports and risks to laboratory and industrial workers are rarely mentioned in the articles analyzed.

In short, there is little concern over the economic, social and ethical implications of nanotechnology in the articles of the JC. Among the scientists who are involved in research in the field, there is no significant concern over such matters. This is in line with public policy, which has only tentatively begun to consider these implications.

Throughout the debate on the implications and risks of nanotechnology, as it was with previous technologies, demands have been made by a number of groups in society for more information and public participation and demands have also been made to adopt precautionary measures and regulation of nanotechnologies. From the selection of some debated topics that stand out in the literature cited above, listed in Table 7, we sought to map out the importance given to these matters in the JC reports. We came across very scanty references in only 24 articles. The most frequently mentioned topics are the need to provide information about N&N to the public and set up regulations for research and commercialization.
Table 7

Reports on N&N published in JC, by reference to actions concerning the potential implications and risks of nanotechnologies

 

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Total

Articles dealing with the subject

0

1

6

4

5

8

24

 Public information

0

1

4

2

5

6

18

 Regulation

0

0

0

4

3

3

10

 Precautionary measures

0

0

3

0

1

3

7

 Public participation

0

0

2

2

1

2

7

 Moratorium

0

1

1

0

0

1

3

Articles that do not broach the subject

20

23

25

28

21

10

127

Total of articles

20

24

31

32

26

18

151

Source: prepared by the author based on information in the Jornal da Ciência. Note: More than one option is possible

Concerning public information, it is worth mentioning the Nanoaventura (Nanoadventure) initiative for science divulgation that is reported in three articles. Developed by the Science Explorer Museum in Campinas, São Paulo State, it was used as a traveling exhibition throughout 2005, with over 25,000 visitors in the cities of Rio de Janeiro, Campinas, São Paulo and Porto Alegre. This project, coordinated by Marcelo Knobel, a physicist at the University of Campinas (Unicamp) was developed by professors and researchers at the university and the National Synchrotron Light Laboratory (LNLS).

One matter that stands out due to its virtual absence in the articles analyzed is the reference to visions of nanotechnology from other actors outside of the scientific community. Only 12 articles out of a total of 151 allude to non-governmental organizations or manifestations by the public concerning nanotechnology. Thus, for instance, it is notable that very few comments are made in the JC about a very significant event that took place in 2003, when the ETC Group called for a moratorium on nanotechnology, pointing out possible risks to health and the environment at the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg. This call was highly controversial. However, in the JC, it was only referred to in one report. References to potential conflicts between science and the public over N&N is also scarce—a total of 13 articles over the period. This is significant, given that at least two scientific controversies have been the object of conflict between science and the public in recent years in Brazil: genetically modified organisms and stem cell research.

Among the few references to organized social groups, we found some that attempt to dismiss the capacity or legitimacy of NGOs to voice their opinions on nanotechnology. One researcher in the field of biological sciences, for instance, recognizes the existence of the risks of nanoparticles to human health and the environment. He says these risks are low and avoidable and speaks of the need to inform the public in order to “face activists who fight, armed only with popular fantasies, [and who] are organized against this type of science, demanding a moratorium” [8]. Another scientist, H. Toma, a chemist from the University of Sao Paulo, informs us during an interview that there are already cosmetics with nanoparticles on the market but that the companies who make them do not make this public “so that they won’t suffer with NGOs” [9]. It is necessary to note that both emphasize the importance of scientific information for the public, but they do not recognize the right of social movements to voice their opinions on technologies, their implications and their potential risks.

Legitimizing the Field

The general picture on N&N presented by the articles analyzed is one of a revolutionary field that is about to take off, with a huge potential for benefits, and a fabulous market being developed over the next few years. Since little attention is paid to the economic, social and ethical implications and the potential risks of nanotechnologies, the visions of the nanotechnological future presented by the JC are optimistic and mostly unproblematic. Undoubtedly, besides expressing the enthusiasm of scientists for a new field of research that opens up new and exciting challenges, these visions seek to promote N&N as an interest of the scientific community that reads the JC, justifying its relevance for technological, economic and social development of the country. To legitimize the field of research better, scientists and policy makers stress these visions by means of three arguments: opportunity, necessity and viability.

N&N is frequently referred to in these articles as a change in the scientific and technological paradigm or as a new strategic field of science that will open up a historic opportunity for Brazil (Table 8). This perspective has been clearly translated into a justification for the PDN&N, which supports this point of view when it states that: “in an imminent breaking of paradigms due to nanotechnology and nanosciences (N&N) we are now faced with a unique opportunity to join this new era along with developed countries…” [17].
Table 8

Reports on N&N published in JC, in order of main reasons to justify support for nanotechnology research in Brazil

 

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Total

Articles dealing with the subject

8

12

10

11

4

4

49

 To develop competitiveness to enter the international market

6

7

6

7

4

2

32

 Emerging science/strategic field/change of paradigm

5

7

3

5

2

4

26

 To train qualified human resources for the country to be able to develop nanotechnologies

0

2

2

0

0

1

5

 Brazil must not fall behind in technology again

0

2

1

0

0

1

4

 To meet local social needs

0

1

0

3

0

0

4

 To gain technological autonomy

0

0

1

2

0

0

3

 Sustainable development

0

0

1

0

1

0

2

Articles that do not broach the subject

12

12

21

21

22

14

102

Total of articles

20

24

31

32

26

18

151

Source: prepared by the author based on information in the Jornal da Ciência. Note: More than one option is possible

A window of opportunity opens onto a huge market that Brazil can participate in if it develops its competitiveness in N&N. Making Brazil competitive is the central argument that unites scientists and policy makers to justify the need for a policy on nanotechnology. This is translated, in the policy for the sector, into ambitious goals for the market which have already been set out in the PDN&N, proposing the goal of raising Brazilian participation in the nanotechnology market to US $30 billion by 2020, which will account for 3% of the forecasted world nanoproduct market for the same period [27].

Other arguments such as avoiding technological gaps, guaranteeing technological autonomy, promoting sustainable development and meeting social needs at a national level are only marginally utilized to legitimize the field of research.

From opportunity comes the necessity to develop aggressive policies and investing resources because if this is not done, Brazil will remain outside of this new paradigm in which so many countries are investing so quickly. Metaphors such as “we can’t miss the bus” or “we’ve got to catch this wave” are commonly used. One researcher wonders whether Brazil will take the historic opportunity it has today in this field and claims that this depends on the government and industry, arguing that “If this decision is not taken, we miss the bus that will make us go down in history as has happened to us before, for example, in the field of microchips” (Moysés Nussenzveig, quoted by Montserrat [23]). The physicist Marcelo Knobel voices a similar opinion: “With a clear policy on nanoscience and nanotechnology, we will be able to compete with other countries as their peers, but we need to hurry up because these other nations have already started singling out this field to get a head start.” (Knobel, quoted by Da Silveira [4]).

Lastly, the argument of national capacity for the development of N&N is mentioned in almost half of the articles and becomes increasingly important as time goes by (Table 9). It is argued in these articles that the cooperative research networks in N&N, created by the CNPq in 2001, gathered highly qualified and productive human resources capable of advancing world-class research and pushing innovation towards the promising nanoproduct market. The capacity for research infrastructure is also frequently highlighted and considered to be the best in Latin America. The fruits of the research, which begin to be shown in the form of scientific articles, patents, prototypes, participation in international events, etc., are reported in a number of articles as proof of the productivity of national research.
Table 9

Reports on N&N published in JC, in order of conditions for Brazil to develop nanotechnologies

 

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Total

Articles dealing with the subject

5

11

11

18

14

9

68

 Quality/excellence of research highlighted in the Latin-American and world context

2

9

9

15

13

8

56

 The fruits of the research have begun to appear

0

7

2

6

3

0

18

 There are segments with high potential for N&N development

3

1

1

3

0

3

11

 Adequate S&T policy

2

1

0

4

1

1

9

 Developing international cooperation

0

0

0

1

2

2

5

Articles that do not broach the subject

15

13

20

14

12

9

83

Total of articles

20

24

31

32

26

18

151

Source: prepared by the author based on information in the Jornal da Ciência. Note: More than one option is possible

Likewise, mention is made of the growing relevance of Brazilian science within world science, which in the case of N&N has seen above average growth. The physicist Cylon G. da Silva points out in an interview that while Brazilian participation in world science as a whole is 1.44%, when it comes to nanotechnology this figure rises to 2.9% [32]. Another researcher states that “there is more competence in the field of carbon nanotubes in Brazil than in several European countries” (Pimenta, citado por Esteves [6]).

Few articles, a mere 33, record the existence of obstacles against the development of N&N in the country (Table 10). The obstacle that is referred to most, the lack of resources invested in comparison with the high cost of N&N research, is the almost natural result of the demands of scientists to place more priority on this field in the overall budget for S&T.10
Table 10

Reports on N&N published in JC by main difficulties facing the development of nanoscience and nanotechnology in Brazil

 

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Total

Articles dealing with the subject

4

10

8

4

4

3

33

 High cost/insufficient infrastructure and human resources

3

8

7

2

3

0

23

 Weak link between research and the productive sector

2

3

3

3

2

3

16

 Inadequate S&T policy

0

3

1

1

0

0

5

 Lack of regulations

0

0

0

0

2

2

4

 Lack of assessment of social, ethical implications, etc.

0

2

0

0

0

0

2

Articles that do not broach the subject

16

14

23

28

22

15

118

Total number of articles

20

24

31

32

26

18

151

Source: prepared by the author based on information in the Jornal da Ciência. Note: More than one option is possible

The second obstacle, mentioned in 16 articles, is much more significant as it involves the main goals of the policy for N&N in the country: the weak link between research and the productive sector. This relevant issue deserved little attention by scientists and policy makers in the JC, particularly considering that during the same period of time the Innovation Law11, oriented to stimulate the relationship between research and innovation by the productive sector, was largely discussed and finally approved.

Main Actors

Through our analysis we have found that there are some actors who have an outstanding role in the promotion of certain visions concerning nanotechnology. Among the Brazilian actors, physicists are by far the most quoted in articles about N&N in the JC, followed by engineers, chemists and researchers in the field of biology and health (Table 11).
Table 11

Researchers on N&N and policy makers quoted in articles or authors of articles in JC, by area of training

 

Number of researchers/policy makers

Predominantly qualified in physics

36

Predominantly qualified in engineering

17

Predominantly qualified in chemistry

16

Predominantly qualified in pharmaceuticals, biology and medicine

13

Predominantly qualified in humanities and social sciences

10

Qualified in other areas

2

No information available

1

Total

95

Source: prepared by the author based on information contained in the Jornal da Ciência and the Currículos Lattes data base of the CNPq (http://lattes.cnpq.br/index.htm)

Only ten researchers in the social and human fields are mentioned throughout the period. Two of them held posts in the government as policy makers and the other eight research the social implications of N&N. Even though the scientific associations of these fields are members of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science, social scientists in general appear less frequently in the JC, and this is corroborated in the case of articles about N&N.12 However, this narrow presence in the JC, along with the low number of articles that deal with the social implications of N&N, may also be an indicator that there are still very few scientists in the social and human fields who are involved with these matters.

This predominance of the viewpoints of researchers in the fields of physics, natural sciences and engineering is translated in the preponderance of visions of social and scientific progress that we qualified before as “not problematic.” Such visions tend to associate, in a linear fashion, new technologies, greater competitiveness, economic development and social welfare. As they do not take into account the more complex relationship between science, technology and society, these visions are linear visions of progress.

In Table 12, we can see the academic qualifications of the 74 researchers into N&N cited in the articles. Researchers of N&N have a profile considered to be of excellence in national research. They are the product of the investment that has been made in the country since the 1970s in order to achieve this development: they have obtained their doctorate degrees at the most renowned universities in Brazil and overseas and have carried out post-doctoral and other research at prominent universities and research centers abroad. A growing number of researchers are taking their doctorate degrees in Brazil as graduate education here has been expanded considerably over the last two decades. However, links to research centers overseas have been maintained in different stages in the scientist’s careers (post-doctorates, research stages, visiting professors, etc.).
Table 12

Researchers on N&N quoted in articles or authors of articles in JC, by place of training

 

Researchers in nanotechnology

Number of researchers

74

Master’s degree in Brazil

43

Doctorate degree in Brazil

41

Master’s degree overseas

6

Doctorate degree overseas

28

Post doctorate or/and other training overseas

40

No information available

1

Source: prepared by the author based on information contained in the Jornal da Ciência and the Currículos Lattes data base of the CNPq (http://lattes.cnpq.br/index.htm).

N&N research networks involve researchers from different Brazilian states. Nevertheless, over half of the researchers mentioned in the JC work at universities and research centers in São Paulo State (Table 13), where the S&T infra-structure and the most renowned universities are concentrated. In other words, the most active scientists in spreading visions on N&N in the JC are leading scientists from leading institutions in the country.
Table 13

Researchers on N&N quoted in articles or authors of articles in JC, by location of their research center

Research Institutions

Number of researchers

Universities or research centers in São Paulo State

40

Universities or research centers in other South-Eatern states

14

Universities or research centers in the Northeastern States

14

Universities or research centers in Southern States

3

Universities or research centers in other regions

2

No information available

1

Total

74

Source: prepared by the author based on information contained in the Jornal da Ciência and the Currículos Lattes data base of the CNPq (http://lattes.cnpq.br/index.htm)

It is important to say more about the two scientists who are most frequently mentioned in the JC during this period. Fernando Gallembeck, mentioned in 17 articles and Cylon Gonçalves da Silva, mentioned in 16, are both prominent researchers at State University of Campinas (Unicamp) and have held important positions at the Ministry of Science and Technology closely related to policy making in the area of N&N. However, they have had different points of view at times. Gonçalves da Silva was one of the people in charge of establishing the National Synchrotron Light Laboratory in the 1980s, one of the main laboratories for nanotechnology research in the country today. He took the first steps to formulating N&N policy when the Cardoso administration requested that he establish the first National Nanotechnology Program, which was discontinued when the new S&T ministry of the Lula administration commissioned a new program from Gallembeck. However, Gonçalves da Silva returned to the ministry, where both researchers held positions concomitantly.

Comments and Reflections

Over the last 7 years, a wide-ranging N&N policy has been consolidated in Brazil, making the country one of the leaders in Latin America by launching the first national program for the development of nanotechnology in the region. This process was not an isolated government initiative or of few renowned scientists. By analyzing the visions of N&N that researchers in the field have spread in the JC, a vehicle of the much respected Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science, we see the active involvement of a large group of researchers who have worked to outline this policy.

Some prominent researchers have held important positions as policy makers in the Ministry of Science and Technology while others have worked as advisers in groups which the Ministry has designated to study specific matters pertaining to the process of preparing this policy, directly influencing the final form it would take. Other researchers have been less directly involved but have been instrumental in making the new field of research public by speaking of its potential for the development of the country, by characterizing it as a strategic field that Brazil could not afford to be left out of. There can be no doubt that, through their visions of N&N, researchers have made the field legitimate.

We have seen that, through their articles in the JC, the researchers, despite some serious debate over the allocation of research funds, have been highly one-sided in their visions of N&N. The superiority and greater effectiveness of future nanotechnologies and nanoproducts that are already available, and the possibilities that the country will have to enter new markets have been the strongest arguments used to connect nanotechnologies with economic development and improved standards of living. These promises were introduced as viable by emphasizing that the country can count on a significant and productive group of researchers, who are making the country stand out in international scientific production in the field of N&N.

Considering the convergence of the visions spread by researchers and the justification and goals outlined by the policies for the sector, together with the definition of N&N as a strategic area in science, technology and innovation in Brazil, we can state that these visions were successful in legitimizing the field and ensuring research funds.

In the JC, the number of articles portraying perspectives that were not in agreement with these dominating visions was very low. Through comments on international reports like that of the Royal Society, in 2004, and references to seminars organized by the Network of Nanotechnology, Society and the Environment there appear subjects such as the social, economic and ethical implications and the risks that may result from nanotechnologies. However, these viewpoints carry relatively less weight in the articles as a whole and the same can be said of their impact on N&N policy. And even more significant, perhaps, is the fact that their appearance did not spark any dialog or controversy between the visions on progress held by nanotechnology researchers and the visions of a society that will be affected in many ways by the diffusion of nanotechnologies introduced by the researchers that analyze their social implications.

Footnotes
1

In that year, President Clinton launched the National Nanotechnology Initiative, soon followed by N&N programs in other developed countries.

 
2

“Human enhancement” is the increase of cognitive and physical human capacities for work, heightening senses and prolonging of life through nanotechnological devices combined with other technologies, integrated with the organism.

 
3

The European Commission, for instance, encourages debates among European countries on the benefits and risks (both real and perceived) of nanotechnologies and their implications for society. Several experiments have been funded by the Framework Programs, such as Nanologues and Nanodialogues [3]. The United States National Nanotechnology Initiative includes research on the implications of nanotechnology for society, grouped into two categories: environmental health and safety, and societal dimensions [25].

 
4

The Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science is a civilian institution founded in 1948 to contribute to scientific and technological, educational and cultural development in Brazil, “taking a stance in matters pertaining to scientific policy and scientific and technological development programs that are in the real interests of the country” (http://www.sbpcnet.org.br/site/conheca/mostra.php?cod=473).

 
5

The Jornal da Ciência is also distributed in printed form every 2weeks and distributed to active members of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science. See http://www.jornaldaciencia.org.br/index2.jsp

 
6

These four networks worked until October 2005, but from a new call of the CNPq 10 new networks were created, all of them connected to the Brazil Nano Program.

 
7

This project is, again, a proposal from Cylon Goncalves da Silva, who is returning with a high position to the MCT.

 
8

The Sectorial Funds were created in 1999 with the objective of articulating the research demands of specific productive sectors such as petroleum, energy, hydraulic resources, mineral resources, transportation, information technology, health, aeronautics, agriculture, biotechnology and telecommunications.

 
9

The more radical visions of nanotechnology, such as that of Eric Drexler [5], foresee possible production by way of molecular machines capable of replicating themselves. He warned about the possibility of these machines breaking away from human control, leading to a “gray goo” which would contaminate the planet.

 
10

The resources allocated to S&T account for 0.98% of GDP, although the Lula government had originally proposed to double this level of investment.

 
11

The Innovation Law, approved in December 2004, focus on mechanisms to bridge the scarce relationship between research institutions and the productive sector in Brazil.

 
12

I make this statement merely as an avid reader of the JC, without any accurate figures.

 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008